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Tuesday
Aug192008

In a pissy mood, 'nuff said.

So.

 

It was brought to my attention recently that I have abandoned my blogs. I have not updated my LJ in over a year, and have not updated my Vox blog since November. This begs the question: Why?

Honestly? I just don’t really want to write any more. I rarely have time, and when I do have a few minutes to myself, I prefer to spend it doing something more worthwhile than spewing out shit that only 3 people read. That’s probably going to sound a lot more harsh than I mean it to be, but what the fuck, eh? In for a penny, in for a pound.

 

But since you inquired, Jane, here’s a post.

 

1993— The Year in Retrospect

 

Yes, I know that “Year In Retro” writings are usually most potent when posted between December 15th of the year in question and January 15 of the year following, but let us assume, for just a moment, that we can remember that far back. Let us travel back in time, to January of 1994, and remember 1993 as it was, and as it might have been.

 

This was the year that Czechoslovakia became Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

It was the year Janet Reno became the first female Attorney General of the United States.

The first Pentium chips were shipped by Intel. The usefulness of your 486 would soon be outstripped, and the broken bones of your Packard Bell would yield to the Compaq POSes that replaced them.

In March, CERN, a Pan-European nuclear research laboratory, spawned a connected computer network so scientists isolated by physical distance could share large pools of data. They called it the world wide web.

On the same day as the launch of the web, Monica Seles was stabbed by an obsessed Stefi Graf fan in Hamburg.

In May, Thailand’s Kader Toy Factory, a factory that made plastic dolls and stuffed toys for Disney, Mattel, and several other prominent American companies, burned to the ground. 188 women, ranging in age from 9 to 72 were killed, because when the building started to burn they rushed to the doors to escape, only to find that the doors had been locked from the outside to prevent workers from leaving while on shift.

China conducted its first nuclear test.

Dizzy Gillespie, Rudolf Nureyev, Audrey Hepburn, Thurgood Marshall, Andre the Giant, Arthur Ashe, Joseph Mankeiwicz, Brandon Lee, Cesar Chavez, William Golding, Raymond Burr, Vincent Price, Federico Fellini, River Phoenix, Bill Bixby, and Frank Zappa all died.

 

And that June, I graduated from high school.

 

The year comes to my mind for two reasons. The first is that I was recently “friended” (and there’s another topic for a someday-post—how much I detest turning perfectly good nouns like ‘friend’ into verbs when there’s already a verbal form, as in ‘befriend’) by several persons with whom I graduated from high school.

 

I try not to be bitter about high school, you know? But it’s hard.

 

I wasn’t popular, and I wasn’t happy. I suppose no one is as popular as they wish they were nor as happy as they try to appear. But I was the real deal. I had one friend. ONE. And she only put up with me because I was smart, and we liked the same kinds of books, and because I was one of the only people who didn’t call her names. To illustrate how well the two of us were liked, I was voted “Shortest Hair For A Girl” and she was voted “Most Likely To Appear On Oprah.”

 

Not a very auspicious beginning.

 

We are not friends now. I fucked that up shortly after graduation by falling for the guy she had a crush on, and by being a total bitch to her. I regret those things, and I wish I had her friendship now, because looking back, she’s one of the only people in my entire life who has never, even once, betrayed me. She knows all my secrets, and to my knowledge, they’re still locked in her head and will be buried with her. The guy? He was a turd anyway.

 

I was not invited to my 10 year high school reunion. I’m sure it was an accident. Really. Although it does say something that, although no one on the reunion committee had heard a confirmation of my coming to the event, my name was not sent out to all the others on the “We still haven’t heard from these people, so if you know where they are tell us” list. I know this, because I did remain friends with one of my ex-boyfriends and his then-wife, who was my roommate for a while right after graduation. They assured me. My name was not on the list.

 

And no one remembered me. No one looked at the list and said “Hey, we didn’t invite Jessica.” Even though most of the graduation committee was in Honors classes with me. Even though we were in Political Convention together. And Students Against Drunk Driving. And Key Club. Or any of the myriad other things I was involved in.

 

I DO remember them. I did a test, once, with a friend, where I gave them my year book and had them cover up the names of people under their senior pictures. Then, I tried to name them all. I only missed 2 out of our entire class, which was 178 people.

 

So why do I remember them? Some of them were mean, some were nice. Some were girls I hated, and some were boys I had mad crushes on. And strangely enough, even now, 15 years later, I can remember little things about them.

 

Tom’s mother had a bad kidney infection senior year and she was in the hospital for a couple of weeks.

Ty was the Platform Chair who pretty much pulled the entire platform together in Political Convention.

Amy wrecked her car three times in two months.

Dillon could get an ENTIRE bagel, with cream cheese, into his mouth at once.

Michael gave one of the most rousing speeches I’ve ever heard from a 16-year-old.

Chris, Gen, Heather and I drove to the beach one night, watched the sunrise and then drove back, arriving just in time for Gen’s mom to wake up and ask why we were dressed. “We’re going out to breakfast” was our smooth reply.

 

I suppose everyone has these memories. I suppose the minutiae of life in that hormone-heightened age imprints itself upon our waiting brains like footprints in spring mud which hardens as we age, holding them there, impervious to the effects of all but the most potent weathering of time and senility.

 

I’m not mad that I was not invited. I probably wouldn’t have even gone. But it is nice, sometimes, to have the option of saying no.

 

The other reason 1993 is on my mind is that I have recently re-discovered an album that was released that year. I had heard it before, but for some reason, a few weeks ago I suddenly seized upon it again, and it made its way into my iPod’s heavy rotation.

 

The album is Elemental by Tears For Fears.

 

So let me tell you about Tears For Fears.

 

My sister is 8 years older than me. So when I was in the fourth grade, she graduated from high school. That was in 1985, and my sister won a bunch of scholarships and such, because she was one of those kinds of people, and she got ready to leave that fall for Lewis and Clark College. LC is a snotty private school on Portland’s west side. It is not a coincidence that the college grounds lie on a rocky knob of land dubbed “Palatine Hill” by its inhabitants. New Rome indeed.

 

Just for the record, I was accepted to the same snotty private college. I didn’t GO, of course, because I’m NOT one of those kinds of people, I didn’t understand financial aid, didn’t know how, when, or where to apply for scholarships, and was far too shy to ask anyone for help, and far too proud and stupid to admit that there was anything I didn’t know.

 

But my sister was going to move into the dorms. She was going to leave us, and she and my mother and I had lived in the same house for my entire life. So this was a scary prospect for me. After all, she was going to do the unspeakable. The unthinkable. The unimaginable.

 

She was going to TAKE HER RECORDS WITH HER.

 

Her records. All of them. Journey, David Bowie, Asia, Supertramp, Prince.

 

What was I supposed to listen to? I could get by on my mom’s Moody Blues and Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem albums for a short time, but then I’d be forced to dig deeper into her collection, wherein lay such moldy tar pits as the Yardbirds, Bob Dylan, and the dreaded Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

 

This was a dreadful thought.

 

So when my sister asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I knew, without hesitation, that it would be a Record Of My Very Own.

 

But what to get? I liked Depeche Mode, but my friend Marita had all their stuff, so it was kind of a waste to get the same thing. I didn’t like most of what was on the radio. In fact, I almost never listened to radio, except to listen to our local CBS affiliate. Because we didn’t have television. My mom thought it would rot our brains, so she wouldn’t get one. But you could listen to M.A.S.H. and Jeopardy! on the radio (Wheel of Fortune was a total wash).

 

So I did the exact thing you should never do when picking a book, film, or record album. I picked by the cover. You can be forgiven these things when you are turning ten.

 

My sister and I went to the mall, and passing the record store, its window plastered with dozens of garishly colored ‘80’s album covers, most adorned with abstract shapes or pictures of their bands—sad, sullen boys trying desperately to live up to their hair cuts. Among them, one album caught my eye. It was a simple black and white photograph which covered the entire front. Two serious young men, one in a cable knit sweater and one in a zippered sweatshirt, slightly behind the other. The one with the earring was kind of cute. So I told my sister that’s what I wanted for my birthday. She agreed. I was, as she said, “in the double digits now” and deserved my own records.


The album was Songs From The Big Chair, and the band was Tears For Fears. I played that record until it almost wore out. I’m sure I drove my mom insane with it. And I loved it. I loved it because it was my own record, because I loved music in general, and because the music was good.

 

In January of 1986, 4 months after I turned 10, I got into a big fight with my mom and moved in with my dad. This was like moving from a hippie commune to a military prison. The good news was that there was a hot dinner on the table every night. The bad news was that I was to speak when spoken to, was not allowed to go pretty much anywhere, do pretty much anything, or make any noises. I was not allowed use of the record player, so I left my record at my mom’s house, for use every other weekend when I visited her. I was not allowed to touch the musical instruments. I was not allowed to sing in the house. My personal possessions were no longer personal. Nor were they mine.

 

By that, I mean that my grandmother gave me one of her paintings for Christmas when I was 12, and my stepmother liked it so much that she hung it in her bedroom instead of allowing me to hang it in mine. When I graduated from high school, she kept it, and refused to give it back.

 

Once, when I was about 16, I came home from school to find her reading a love letter my first boyfriend had written to me when we were 11. I was keeping it because it was the first love letter anyone had ever written to me (come to think of it, it’s the ONLY love letter anyone has ever written to me) and I thought it would be a nice thing to put in my scrapbook when I grew up. Something to remember of my childhood. She told me it was stupid and babyish to keep something like that. That it was the “dumbest thing” I had ever done. She had found it, she said, while looking in my jewelery box to see if I had been hiding anything from her. Then she burned it in front of me.

 

I know everyone has a wicked stepmother or two in the closet, but this bitch took the cake. And for a long time, she had me believing that she did these things with my best interests at heart.

 

My hair, which I begged to be allowed to grow long, was always kept short because she “thought it looked cute” that way. This was in an era when no girls my age had hair that short. I was branded as a lesbian at school, not a terrible prospect in itself, but awkward at that age, and a more difficult label than some to bear up under.

 

I was not allowed to run my own bath, because that would have been a waste of water. I had to bathe in her lukewarm water after she was done. And I don’t mean just when I was a small child. I mean until I moved out at age 17.

 

I had some household chores, among them keeping the kitchen and bathroom floors clean, which I was made to do by “mopping” them with a sponge—a regular 3” x 5” sponge—because she figured since the kitchen and bathroom were both so small it didn’t warrant the purchase and use of a mop.

 

These things were done, of course, with my best interests at heart.

 

As was making me skip lunch.

 

I stopped eating lunch when I was 10, because I was too fat. I was actually not, but I didn’t know that. I was told over and over that if I did not lose weight that no one would ever love me. “Men don’t want to be with fat girls. They don’t like sweat hogs. You have such a pretty face, and you’re so smart. If you had the body to go with it, you’d be perfect.”

 

Soon, it was no breakfast either, and I cut my dinner in half, then in half again. I stopped eating bread, deserts, fruit, juices. I was weighed twice a day. I was grounded if my weight fluctuated more than a pound in a day. By the time I was 15 I was eating 900 calories a day, making myself throw up if I thought I had overeaten, and I still could not get below 130 lbs. I was 5’4” tall. I had 18% body fat. With a BMI of 21, I was well within the normal range, but I was repeatedly told that I was morbidly obese.

 

And all these things were done with my best interests at heart.

 

Well, I cry bullshit. They were done because my former stepmother is the kind of person who is not happy unless she can control everything around her. She is the kind of person who believes that standing on someone else’s shoulders makes you taller. And she is so stupid, and so self-centered, and so emotionally arrested in her development that it is just barely possible that she does these things without malice, truly thinking that she is doing right.

 

So what saved me from just killing myself and getting it over with? The music. I did think about it a couple of times. Several of them were serious. I certainly wrote a lot of poems about it (and to be sure, I was more careful of hiding that stuff than I was of old love letters). But music kept drawing me back into life. There was always more of it, and always something interesting to do with it. You could improvise over the top of songs (if you were outside, of course). You could make up your own version and sing it to yourself in your head. And you could write your own songs.

 

Writing your own songs when you can hear the music in your head but don’t have access to instruments is harder than you might imagine. I don’t claim to be a musical genius by any stretch of the imagination, but that’s not exactly the point, is it? The point is to express yourself. Something I had desperately little opportunity for.

 

So I clung to my one album. It was the only record I had until I graduated from high school, moved away, and was able to buy my own. Well, that’s a lie, actually. I did have Depeche Mode’s 1989 album Violator, as a tape, but a friend gave it to me as a gift.

 

And unfortunately, I missed Elemental. I was poor that year, and I didn’t buy any albums at all. I think the year after that I bought a few more Depeche Mode tapes and maybe Nirvana’s Nevermind.

 

Luckily for me, I met this guy…

 

I’ve recounted the tale of how I met my husband so many times it would be trite and useless to tell it again here, but let it suffice to say that I was a music lover who had no music, and he was someone who owned more CD’s than anyone I had ever met. In fact, he probably owned more CD’s than everyone I knew then COMBINED. And we fell in love. This was 1995. I was 19, he was 20.

 

After we’d been together for a while, I began sharing details of my life before I met him. He would tell me something about his life, and I would tell him something of mine. It was then that I learned that things like weighing yourself twice a day and taking baths in other people’s bathwater was not normal. He actually told my stepmother off once, when she called to talk to me and I was at work. He made her CRY. I should not feel happy about that. It makes me a bad person, a little bit. But it does make me happy, and I’m not really ashamed of it.

 

One of the albums he liked a lot was Elemental. But I wasn’t that into it, for some reason. I think maybe my mind was not ready for it yet. So he played it for a while, and then it got out of our normal rotation and became one of those discs in the back of the CD case that you flip past while looking for something else.

 

Then, the other day, something strange happened. I had put all the Tears For Fears albums we owned (The Hurting, Songs From The Big Chair, and Elemental) on my iPhone. And my husband bought me one of those FM transmitters that works by playing your iPod or iPhone through your car’s radio. The music was on random shuffle, and a song I’d never really noticed from Elemental came on. It was called “Power”:

last year’s rivals share their blood

sailor sworn to secrecy

ride the waves and stem the flood

tides of endless enmity….

 

I don’t know what about it caught my attention when I’d heard it before and never paid it any heed. Maybe it’s because it’s in iambic pentameter. But for some reason, I started playing the song a lot. Then I started playing the whole album a lot.

 

I found that I liked this album very much, and surprisingly, I liked the album that came out in 1995, Raoul and the Kings of Spain, quite a lot also. To be honest, I’ve become a bit obsessed. I have to listen to at least 3 or 4 TFF songs every day now.

 

I guess it shouldn’t startle me that much.

 

When I was a little girl and I listened to TFF songs, I thought they were sagely and wise. Then, I went through my smart-assed teenager phase, when I decided that they weren’t sagely and wise, and that I had only thought so because I was a little kid and didn’t know anything. Now, I’m grown up, and mostly able to avoid my smart-assed side, so I recognize that most of the music I liked when I was a kid is really terrible, except this. It really IS sagely and wise.

 

TFF, unlike some other bands (forgive me, Martin Gore) never seemed to have a “juvenalia” phase. I will always love Depeche Mode, even their early stuff, but even true fans like me have to admit that songs like “The Meaning of Love” are full of what could at best be called “youthful wistfulness.” But unlike DM, Roland Orzabal, primary songwriter for TFF, seems to be an Athena, springing full formed from the head of Zeus, with little or no teenage whining, despite the fact that when he and Curt Smith put out The Hurting, their first album as TFF, they were only 21 years old.

 

Maybe their first album, Acting My Age, with their previous band, Graduate, shows that youthful wistfulness I find so laughable in others, but since Roland didn’t write most of Graduate’s songs, it would be hard to tell.

 

Maybe if I had bought Elemental when it came out, instead of rediscovering it now, 15 years later, maybe I would be a different kind of person. Or is that simply too much weight to put on an album?

 

It is far too easy to let the what ifs creep in. What if I had not fought with my mother? What if she had not shouted “Fine then. Go live with your dad.”? What if I had not answered “Okay, maybe I will.” and called him right then? What if I had not been afraid to ask my friends if their mothers forbid them to eat bread? What if I had told a teacher that I was only eating 900 calories a day, and counting every one? What if I had realized it wasn’t normal to get punished with a beating and having your books taken away for putting too much mayonnaise in your dad’s tuna fish sandwich? What if I had asked a counselor, a teacher, or my sister how to pay for college when you had no money? What if I had been a better friend? What if I had been more noticeable? What if I had been more self confident? What if I had not been so afraid of being who I was that I tried desperately to be who I thought other people wanted me to be?

 

Maybe I’m just maudlin. Maybe I’m just tired. Maybe it’s just the music. Maybe it’s just me.

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